GDI DISC DETECTED. Wait, that only happened on the PlayStation version!!! Immediate 10 point reduction for the PC version off the bat.
I did a short Twitter Poll of people’s favourite defunct Developers of the 90s and our good friend Rob over at iplayedthegame suggested Westwood Studios. I mean seriously how did I forget Westwood? If you ignore the 10ish grea Command & Conquer games (not the shitty EA ones), they also made Blade Runner. BLADE RUNNER for Christ’s sake. The game that is BETTER than the two Blade Runner movies combined (yeah I went there). So how does a retro Real Time Strategy from 1995 hold up to our modern complaining and is Command & Conquer still work a visit?
For the uninitiated Command & Conquer is a Real Time Strategy game where you build and (or) command a force of the Global Defence Initiative (GDI) or the Brotherhood of Nod (Nod). GDI are the pseudo United Nations, and Nod are the “bad” guys.
Set in an alternative timeline, a meteor lands in the Tiber River outside of Rome and from this meteor springs a strange substance called Tiberium. Tiberium through “plot” forms precious crystals in the ground surrounding it, and these crystals that can be traded for goods and services. Kane, the leader of No
bd claim to have predicted the meteor and manages to get a foothold in Tiberium production, leading them to advance their technology to the point of getting big brass balls and declaring war on the ineffectual United Nations GDI. The story behind Tiberium is expanded in future C&C games but for now it is just “plot”.
From here, Nod set off some bombs and eventually provoke GDI into a conflict. You then go over 15 separate missions either repelling Nod in Europe, or conquering Africa as Nod (13 missions).
Each level will vary, and there are essentially three mission types. Free reign, build and conquer. Limited Resources or solo mission. The free reign missions are personally more fun as I like to turtle up get to top of tech tree and steam roll the map with Mammoth Tanks. To do this you need to build a power plant, a Tiberium Refinery, and whatever else your current tech-tree will allow. On some levels the Tiberium resource is limited, other you effectively have enough to build one hundred tanks and do the aforementioned steamrolling.
Limited Resource missions are a little tougher. Here you have, well, limited resources, a set amount of buildings, some money OR some tanks and you have to kill everything. Lose to many units and you be fucked.
Finally, you get some cool missions where you get to play as a Commando and full on Schwarzenegger your way around a map and kill every mother fucker on the planet. These missions can be a little difficult as you learn the rules, but nothing a good old save scumming can’t solve.
The story is presented to you through a mixture of CGI cutscenes and live-action acting, and the acting is tonally spot on. It is a little hammy, but certainly not poor like in Resident Evil. I wouldn’t go as far to say Joseph Kucan‘s performance as Kane is a tour de force, but he plays despotic cult leader down to a tee.
The AI is actually surprisingly strong in terms of attacking. The enemy will prod and probe, as well as send regular attacks at your main entrance. If you attack their Tiberium Harvesters they’ll retaliate, and they will prioritise certain units to whittle you down and keep you on the back foot.
The problems arise with some of the path finding. Harvesters will make a beeline to your refinery. This makes sense, except they are harvesting a ridge over, so they will effectively take the longest possible route as they follow the entire cliff face. They’ll even occasionally just go for a wander through the enemy base if the bridge that wanted to cross as a bloke stood scratching his arse for half a second three days ago blocked off the Harvesters path. It can bork a mission if you’re not paying close enough attention as all three harvester deciding to have a Sunday stroll through an enemy outpost is frustrating to say the least.
Differences in sides?
There is a more nuance to this, but effectively, GDI are big and hard (and expensive) and Nod are smaller, lighter armoured and cheap as fuck. With this difference the sides get different weapons to play out the war, and yet the biggest surprise is the super weapons. GDI get a laser. More formally known as an Ion Cannon, but it is a shitty little laser than it barely better than the Nod Eye-laser Tower of Death (Obelisk). While Nod get a god damn Nuclear Bomb!!! GDI’s Ion Cannon will just about kill a weak structure such as one defence tower or it will do two thirds damage to a Power Plant. Nods, Nuke? FUCK YOU. Construction Yard, Radar, 2 Power Plants and maybe a refinery or two as it lays waste in one pretty rad blast. Sure it gives Nod that bit of power at the end of the rainbow so I guess it balances out their shitty tanks and stealth tanks and complete lack of Mammoth Tanks. But, god does the Ion Cannon suck choad.
While doing my tests I primarily played the PC version, but I do have the PlayStation version too. For the most part the PlayStation version is the same. You lack (or seem to lack) some of the alternative missions when on the world map.
The control method is obviously a little bit clunky as using a control pad and d-pad does not have the speed or precision of a mouse. But this lack of control then links into the PC having a game speed setting in the option. This setting means you can increase the game speed significantly, which will turn the final 4 hour mission into an hour. It is at this point that those 10 points I docked for lack of GDI Disc Detected are more than made up for.
Like Theme Hospital, some levels can become a bit of a chore, but with the increased speed means you can blitz through the whole game. I beat the whole GDI campaign in less than a day, I started around 19:00 in evening, and beat it around 17:00 the next day and that included going to bed at a sensible time and popping to the shops the next day. This what had put me off Command & Conquer in the past, as especially playing the Playstation version I remembered latter missions taking up entire days/evenings as the game chugged along.
And let’s not forget the slowdown you get on the Playstation. Later levels can see significant slowdown as more than 5 tanks on screen bring that already slow game speed to a juddering halt.
Command & Conquer holds up surprisingly well. The AI is pretty strong, and the gameplay and story is interesting enough to keep your interest. The main issue with the original Command & Conquer that detracts is the pathfinding is relatively atrocious and by Jove is the User Interface is lacking. For example, you can assign squads using the control key and the number buttons, but if you press your squad number the game won’t focus on the squad. The game lacks the ability to easily select a certain unit, and the directional buttons on the keyboard do not work. But keeping in mind its stable mates at the time included Z, Z wasn’t bad but it is a fair definition of average it goes to show how far ahead at the time Command & Conquer was over it’s rivals.
These small features don’t make Command & Conquer unplayable, but it does mean that almost all the games released afterwards are better. Most packages of Command & Conquer comes with the add-on pack The Covert Operations. These are uber tough and gimmicky levels that in 1995/6 seemed amazing but now are the worst part. I paid good money in the 90s for it, and now I’d be super disappointing in the extra missions. For those that might not remember the 90s, Add-On packs was over-priced PHYSICAL DLC… You actually paid £15-20 for them… Luckily buying now it is all bundled.
Oh Westwood, how I love you.
Pros: Live Action cutscenes, strong AI,
Cons: Clunky UI, CGI cutscenes, slow down on consoles, the Covert Ops missions are kinda sucky
Back in the Day:
Winning numerous best Strategy game awards and sellig by the bucket load Command & Conquer was a smash, proving popular in European Markets as well as the UK and USA. The various ports would receive mixed reviews with the Nintendo 64 getting a distinctly bad port that still scored mid to high 60s. Other than that Command & Conquer would score high 80s/low 90s.
Also Available On: Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64